Denzel Ward is the Cleveland Browns newest cornerback, after being selected No. 4 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ward was a highly productive corner in college. In 14 games last season, he had 37 tackles, two tackles for loss, 15 passes defended and two interceptions.
But, what are the Browns getting in Ward? On Tuesday, I looked at the film to examine the strengths of the former Buckeye corner. But, no one is perfect. Today, I will look at the weaknesses or areas of Ward’s game that need improvement going into the NFL. So, let’s take a look at the film to see what Ward has to do improve his game.
Browns 2018 NFL Draft Film Room Series
CB Denzel Ward: Strengths
Ward is 5-foot-11, 183 pounds. For an NFL cornerback, he is considered a smaller cornerback. Though he has OK arm length, his weight and height are on the smaller end of the stick. His size could cause him problems in two different areas. The first is against bigger receivers. Bigger receivers, who use their size and frame to overpower corners, could give him trouble. The second issue with his size is that he can struggle tackling, especially bigger players. He can just struggle with bringing the runner down at times. He could definitely add some more pounds to his frame. Let’s take a look at how his size could affect him on the field.
The first play comes against Indiana. Ward is matched up one-on-one with Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr, who stands at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. This is a simple fade route with a jump ball situation between Cobbs and Ward. Cobbs wins by using his length. He is able to use his arm to keep Ward away from him and then he uses his size to go up and get the ball for a touchdown. Cobbs ability to keep Ward away just enough won that battle. Another weakness of Ward, not seeing the ball, can also be blamed on this play, but we will take a look at that later.
The second and last play is also from Indiana. Ward is lined up in man coverage versus the receiver on the right sideline. He comes off the line using bail technique. The receiver runs a comeback route and gains separation from Ward when the corner slips trying to cut back toward the receiver. The pass is completed, but Ward is right there to make the tackles. However, he is unable to bring the receiver down short of the first down, allowing the receiver to get loose and gain a first down. Ward’s lack of true power allowed the receiver to stay upright and get free for extra yards.
Seeing the ball
Ward is strong at contesting passes using his arms to break the pass up. But, he has a tendency to not always see the ball when the pass comes in. He has shown on several occasions that he will face guard the receiver and not get his head around to see the pass coming. Though sometimes, he still is able to pluck the ball loose from the receiver. Nevertheless, his inability to turn his head and find the ball can cause him to be late to react to the pass coming in and be in the wrong spot to defend it. Here are two plays where this has affected him negatively.
In the first play against Oklahoma, Ward is covering the receiver in the right slot, who is running a streak down the sideline. Mayfield takes advantage of Ward face guarding his receiver. Mayfield fires the pass to the outside, near the sideline, while the receiver is advancing downfield. The receiver turns around and catches the ball quickly. Because of the quick pass and the receiver turning around late, Ward was too slow to react to the pass, allowing the ball in for a completion. Had he turned his head to see the pass, he might have been able to knock the pass down because he was in a position to do so.
The other play comes against Oklahoma in the 2016 season. Ward is covering the receiver on the right sideline. The initial route by the receiver is a short stick route, but Mayfield begins to scramble, so the receiver does the scramble drill and heads upfield to help get open for Mayfield. Mayfield decides to throw it to the receiver, once again trying to take advantage of Ward face guarding the receiver. He is able to complete the pass to the receiver’s outside shoulder. Ward was late reacting to the pass. He threw his arms up to try and deflect the pass after the ball had already reached the receiver. Ward’s inability to see the pass caused him to be late to contest it.
Ward uses his hands well, but at times he can get too handsy on the receiver. He likes to stay in touch with the receiver and this can sometimes be too much contact. These instances can draw penalties and he could see more in the more receiver-friendly NFL. He does not need to be grabby because his technique, athleticism, and IQ keep him close to receivers already. Here are some examples of Ward being a little too handsy.
The first play comes against Michigan. He is covering the receiver on the left sideline in a one-on-one matchup. The receiver runs a ten-yard stick route. Ward shows off his quick feet and athleticism to stay with the receiver throughout the play. But when the receiver turns back to the football, Ward has his hand on him and grabs the receiver’s shoulder to stay close with the receiver and to get in front of him to deflect the pass. The pass was deflected and no penalty was called, but it should have been called. Ward did not need to do that because the pass was late coming anyway and he was right with the receiver already and probably could have contested the pass without holding the receiver.
The other play is against Indiana. Ward is covering the receiver on the right sideline. The receiver runs a simply streak route down the field. But, Ward does not stay disciplined to his technique. Because the receiver is looking back to the quarterback throughout the route, Ward thinks the ball is coming, so he holds onto the chest of the receiver to limit his ability to leap up for the pass. His flaw of not looking for the pass also gets him in trouble here. But, Ward is called for the penalty for grabbing the receiver’s chest for quite a while as both men run down the field. It was just not something that needed to be done, especially because the pass was likely uncatchable for the receiver. He must trust his feet and not get handsy.